Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Family dinner, anyone?

I’ve often – very often – felt guilty as a mother for not sitting my children down at the dinner table come 7 o’clock, provisioning them with nutritious, delicious comestibles, and inviting searching conversation about their concerns and interests. For this is what all good parenting books tell you to do, if you wish to raise offspring who won’t turn into frenzied axe-murderers.

More common, in our house, is a somewhat staggered dinner preparation process, poorly coordinated and with little in common. My son (whose idea of ‘proper food’ is only meat; sometimes, if pressed, starch or dairy products) will make himself a toasted-cheese sarmie; I might steam a head of broccoli and sling a bit of tomato-chilli sauce over it; a while later my daughter (a putative vegetarian) may have some of this, but will also boil herself an egg and eat it with mayonnaise and spring onion. Our actual acts of eating are usually as badly coordinated, happening anywhere – at the kitchen counter, in front of the TV, on the verandah, at the dinner table or, if the weather is particularly cold and unfriendly, in bed with a hotwater bottle.

It’s different if people come for dinner (which they often do – thank god, for the emotional and mental health of my children). Then, I make an effort (ironically, I do really love cooking) and we all sit down together, around the table, and, well, make a meal of it. We drink wine, we talk, we play music, we loll around afterwards rubbing our stomachs and sighing contentedly, and perhaps sip coffee and eat chocolates.

But the truth is that it’s only in 'normal', nuclear families (which, these days, is like saying when fuel was affordable) that real, regular, sit-down dinners happen in any habitual way.

My friend C (who is a ravishing 52, and I mention her age for a reason that will soon become apparent) came to stay recently from Jozi. She was taking part in a gruelling river-canoe race – gruelling not only because it’s long, but also because it’s tricky, and because the weather’s cold and uninviting, and because you have to have cajones the size of Mars to even think about doing it. (I’m 44 and I’d rather have my eyes sucked out by a giant squid than canoe down the Berg in the middle of winter, thankyou.)

Anyway, so C did her first day (and did very well, but more about that later), and that evening, I thought she’d appreciate nothing finer than a sit-down family dinner with chitchat and companionship and all that crap. So I prepared a hearty meal and at about 7 o’clock I served it. My kids (who, bless them, do get all keen when we have a real meal around the table) sat down; I sat down; my oft-times partner A sat down … and C picked up her cellphone and proceeded to tap out an SMS.

We sat, forks politely poised, for a few minutes. C typed. I said, ‘Kids, tuck in, it’s getting cold’ (I said this quite loudly). C typed. I said, ‘C, darling, how about joining us? Eat it while it’s hot...?’ C typed. I said, ‘Jesus, C, what are you typing? A novel?’

She looked up at me distractedly. ‘My coach,’ she said. ‘I’m just reporting how I did today.’

Fair enough. C finally sat down and looked with heartwarming gratitude at the food that was congealing on her plate. ‘This is great!’ she said, then she looked around. ‘Hey,’ she said. ‘Didn’t you say you’d got a DVD to watch tonight? Let’s put it on!’

For the record: C lives in a committed relationship, and her dependants are three cats – so she’s never felt compelled to sit down for a family meal, and nor should she.

So let me just say: not everyone appreciates a sit-down round-the-table dinner, and it’s not always necessarily appropriate.

(C was the 5th woman in, in a very tough race. Her prize for about eight hours of astonishingly difficult paddling? A bottle of organic pet shampoo, which she donated to my dog.)

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Castle Bath Body Spa said...

I can relate to your story! We have the very same during our family get togethers!

settledowndude said...

someone must SMbladdieS while Ive slaved over a hot microwave prepareing a proper dinner, they will sooo be given a snide remark and a lesson in good manners. Shees Pity C is too old to get a running snottie. Off my Christmass list she would be.

Juno said...

No one is every too old to get a running snottie.

meggie said...

WTF kind of prize it that?? Serves her right for being rude! haha.

The dinner thing- we used to do the traditional but now that we dont have to please anyone but ourselves, we often get our own dinner- he eats meat, I don't often. We absently eat while watching tv too often too.
I rather like it when the family comes to visit.